National Audit Office NAO

1 Fragmented responsibilities
Limited focus on effectiveness

9. Responsibilities for considering the effectiveness of ODA expenditure are fragmented across government. For example, HM Treasury considers business cases for ODA expenditure, but does not have a role in considering the impact of actual expenditure. Departments are responsible for securing value for money from all their expenditure, including ODA. While a cross-government group of ODA spending departments exists, its focus on the effectiveness of that expenditure is limited (paragraph 1.4, 1.12 and 1.13).

2 Overlapping strategies
Difficulties in review and reporting

10. Departments and cross-government funds use ODA expenditure to deliver a range of strategies, creating complexities in considering programme performance. The UK Aid Strategy in 2015 set the government’s strategy for spending ODA, establishing four objectives for that expenditure. At the same time the government set three objectives for the National Security Strategy. Alongside these cross-government approaches, country-level and thematic strategies (focusing on, for example, women and girls, migration and on economic development) have been developed. Departments looking to work together overseas are taking steps to bring these strategies together when implementing programmes. But the number of strategies – and their overlap – creates difficulties in terms of reviewing and then reporting performance. This undermines government’s ability to align performance with the objectives set out in strategies and with poverty reduction more broadly. Despite the country and theme focus of these strategies, HM Treasury’s allocation process remains heavily department-focused (paragraphs 1.2 and 1.3 and Figure 4).

3 Unclear progress in implementing the major strategy

12. Taking ODA expenditure as a whole, government has placed insufficient emphasis on demonstrating its effectiveness and on progress against the UK Aid Strategy. At departmental level, we found evidence that programme performance was monitored and then evaluated when the programme came to an end. But more widely, government has only just started to consider the effectiveness of ODA expenditure across departments and what this says about progress in implementing the UK Aid Strategy. In 2019 departments agreed a framework which sets out, for each of the four objectives in the UK Aid Strategy, ‘indicators of success’ as well as illustrations of the performance achieved. But the framework does not bring these measures together with expenditure, which is necessary to support an assessment of value for money (paragraphs 1.12 and 1.13).

4 Expected benefits not set
Intended impact not assessed

13. Neither DFID nor HM Treasury has assessed whether allocating the ODA budget to departments other than DFID has had the impact intended. ODA-funded programmes generate challenges such as making sure expenditure is eligible to count towards the target and managing programmes in hostile environments. However, government wanted to draw on skills across-government when spending ODA to respond to changes in emphasis in the challenges it faced (such as mass migration and the impact of global warming). It therefore allocated more of the ODA budget to these departments from 2016 onwards. But it did not set out in detail the benefits it expected to achieve from this approach. Nor has it assessed whether its intentions have been delivered in practice (paragraph 1.14).


In 2010, the coalition government committed to spending 0.7% of UK gross national income on overseas aid – known as Official Development Assistance (ODA) – from 2013 onwards. This is the proportion of a nation’s income that the United Nations has said developed countries should aim to spend on overseas aid. The UK has met the 0.7% target each year from 2013 to 2017. In 2015 this commitment became legally binding. The increase in the UK’s gross national income and the UK’s commitment to the 0.7% target has led to an increase in total UK ODA expenditure.


This is our fourth report on the UK’s ODA spending. Figure 2 on page 7 summarises the scope of the first three.

This study builds on our other reports on DFID’s and wider government’s management of ODA by focusing on what this spending is achieving in practice. We considered whether:

the allocation of ODA across-government focused sufficiently on effectiveness;

departments’ ODA projects are meeting their planned objectives; and

the centre of government maintains good oversight of the effectiveness of ODA spending

The items above were selected and named by the e-Government Subgroup of the EUROSAI IT Working Group on the basis of publicly available report of the author Supreme Audit Institutions (SAI). In the same way, the Subgroup prepared the analytical assumptions and headings. All readers are encouraged to consult the original texts by the author SAIs (linked).